On-campus center helps autistic children

By Gus Bode

One university program has taken an active approach to helping children with autism.

The Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders is located in the Wham Building. Anthony Cuvo, professor of behavior analysis and therapy and the director of the center, said it provides training for graduate students to teach them to effectively work with children with autism. Through this, he said, the program benefits children in the southern Illinois region.

“Our unique niche is a graduate student training program,” Cuvo said. “And then the children benefit from that.”


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site, autism is a spectrum disorder that impairs the development of a person’s social interaction and communication skills. The individual usually exhibits odd behavior or has unusual interests, the site said.

Cuvo said the center started on campus in 2000 when he and a colleague started training graduate students to work with children with autism. The center was eventually set as the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders and has continued to grow. It is part of Illinois’ “The Autism Program,” which helps develop services for children with autism.

The center offers programs to help assess children with autism and to treat the disorder, Cuvo said. He said children with autism generally exhibit three main characteristics that aid in the evaluation of their condition, which include language development, inappropriate social behavior and a repetitive interest in certain behaviors.

Cuvo said the center has many services for children with autism and their families. He said the treatment helps children develop their language and social skills, but results vary with the amount of treatment as well as the severity of the disorder.

“The younger we get them and the milder the autism and the fewer of the other disorders they have, the better the prognosis,” he said.

Alessa Bennan, a graduate student from Chicago studying behavioral analysis and therapy, said she has always enjoyed working with children and realized through her experiences in the past few years as an aid for a boy with autism that she wanted to work with autistic children.

“That’s why I keep doing it, because I see progress, and that’s a really cool thing to see,” she said.


Kirsten Schaper, a speech language pathologist for the center, said autism affects males more than females by a 4-1 ratio. Psychological disorders in general occur more frequently in males, she said.

Cuvo said autism is a genetic disorder and that environmental factors play a role. The genes, or combination of genes, that create the disorder are unknown, he said.

While treatment can do a lot to help children with autism develop more normally, Cuvo said effects of the disorder never fully leave those who suffer from it.

“There’s always going to be some residue of autism,” Cuvo said. “Even if they make great strides.”

Ryan Rendleman can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 258 or [email protected].